22 April 2009

Book Reviews

The last two weeks I've been working for my dad's company as a fill-in receptionist while Lisa, the full time person I replaced, was on a leave of absence. I guess she comes back Monday, so my estimate of 3 weeks worth of work is now only going to last two, but hey, pocket change is pocket change. I did get a raise since the last time I worked, so that's pretty awesome (thanks, Julie!). Point is, since I'm not the real deal as far as receptionists go, I don't get near the workload I could handle in a front desk position such as ordering supplies, typing, filing, etc. This gives me time to read, an activity I've not done for pleasure in many years, since the summer of 2005 at least. During the past two weeks at O'Neil Construction, I have gone through three books, and all three were good enough for me to give short reviews of them here at "The View from Arizona." 1. As They See 'Em: A Fan's Travels in the Land of Umpires by Bruce Weber Trivia question: What association is more universally despised by the average American citizen than almost any other in today's society, and where it's perfectly normal for a person to espouse his or her disgust with the people filling the job description? That would be the association of Major League Baseball umpires. From the workweariness of umpiring school, where amatures are intensively schooled in the rules of the game and trained mercilessly in learning umpiring mechanics and positions, to the minor league systems where the pay is akin to the level of a paid intern and the working conditions are vitriolic at best, finally, after a decade or more of abuse, the most senior umpires might hive a shot at dealing with whiny players and hateful MLB staffers in the Majors. The world of the Umps is filled with racism (how many black umpires do you see calling games?), segregation (ever seen a woman signaling a home run?), and treatment that at any other job would be considered grounds for a lawsuit - seriously, the old catchphrase among fans used to be "Kill the Ump!" Despite all this, though, every umpire in Weber's novel has one common goal: to uphold the traditions of the sport of baseball. While not without their faults - and of their vices there can be no doubt - on the field umpires are truly the caretakers of the American Pastime. I would encourage all baseball fans and all who claim to love the game to read this biography of the stewards of the sport! 2. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card I first read this sci-fi classic when I was much younger, around ten or so, perhaps, and in rereading it, I have come to appreciate the complexities that Card grants his characters so much more than I ever did at that young age. The novel, set amidst the dark shadow of alien invasion by a race (the only one humans have made contact with at this time) called the "buggers" weaves the story of Andrew Wiggin, the Wunderkind nicknamed "Ender" who at the age of 6 is drafted into a specialized officer training school to become a tool used to defend Earth from the second invasion of bugger forces. Ender, whose modified genes give him a military mind sharper than that of any adult, trains in the school's Battle Room practicing military formations with the other child-trainees and adapting to the most intense challenges the adults can think to throw at him to help him grow. Throughout it all, though, Ender wishes for nothing else except to return home to his family - his sister Valentine in particular - and be done with killing and training. My words do not do justice to Card's grand juxtaposition of love and hate, the innocence of childhood against the harshness of the human survival instinct, and above all else, truth versus deception. If you are a lover of the classics, this book as much as any from centuries past, will stand the test of time. 3. Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card Card's sequel to "Ender's Game," Speaker is the story of what happened AFTER Ender the Xenocide won the Bugger Wars for the humans. After traveling the stars in search of a final resting place for the last surviving bugger queen, whose race Ender utterly wiped out three thousand years earlier, Andrew Wiggin is now the Speaker for the Dead - a eulogizer whose purpose if uncovering the truth of a person's life after he or she has died and Speaking that truth to his or her family and acquaintances. When Speaker Andrew is called to Speak for a biologist on a distant world inhabited by the second sentient species humankind has found among the stars - but which is also seemingly predestined to be exterminated by humankind no matter how well-intentioned - he accepts the offer with the hope that it will be the trip which finally allows him to undo his guilty conscience and allow the bugger queen to be reborn. In no other book have a ever found myself so profoundly moved by the notion that the truth - the honest-to-God, blunt and in-your-face, spoken without judgement truth - can really free the soul. This book can be read alone or as the sequel to "Ender's Game" but regardless of which you choose, "Speaker for the Dead" is astounding literature. 4. Ender in Exile by Orson Scott Card The newest Ender novel by Card, published in 2008, Ender in Exile tells the story of what happens to Andrew Wiggin between "Ender's Game" and "Speaker for the Dead." Andrew, traveling to Shakespeare Colony some 22 light years from Earth after being appointed Governor of the colony makes the transition from wartime commanding to peacetime commanding and diplomacy. The novel's main sticking point is its development of, specifically, Ender's character, and believe me, Card does it brilliantly.

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